The next installment of our Creative Workspace series takes us down by the Embankment, to visit Mark JW Graham, songster and tutor.
A songster and tutor? *intrigued* Tell us what it is that you do
I’m a singing teacher. I also play and teach guitar. Essentially, everyone can sing but many people think that they don’t need help. I decided that I did need help and was taught using ‘speech level singing’. I embarked on teacher training and now use this theory to teach others to sing.
When someone comes to me for the first time, I sit and find out about them first – are they a smoker, any digestive problems etc. Everyone’s voice falls into one of four categories and three of these are bad. I can diagnose what is wrong with their voice and then we set songs as exercises to help improve the sound.
I teach a wide variety of people – it can be someone who just wants to sing personally or it can be a musician who has a gig coming up and wants to spend time on certain aspects of their work.
How long have you been teaching?
I’ve been teaching for about a year and singing for about two or three years. Before that I was a patent attorney! So it’s a real career change. It got to the point where I realised it wasn’t the job for me, it wasn’t any fun and although I made a good salary, it wasn’t fulfilling personally. I’ve been playing guitar for longer though – I was asked to play with a gospel choir at university and had to learn jazz theory for that, alongside big band stuff, rock, folk covers and R&B.
We don’t cover music much at Creative Towers. How do you see it fitting into the creative scene?
Music has a great advantage over other art forms as it doesn’t need a physical medium to enjoy or make it. You don’t need paints or clay or any other equipment. You’ve got a voice – everyone can make music with just themselves. When you look at other creative arts, you see writers taking six months just to write a first draft or I was talking to Anna Colette Hunt about her ceramic insects (on display at Nottingham Castle last year) and she told me that she had a 50% fail rate when she was making them. Music doesn’t have that. But, its democratic nature is also its biggest weakness – it’s lost its standing as a fine art. Fewer people go and see music, just sit back and appreciate it, but lots of people will tell you that they love music. What they actually mean is that they hate silence.
Technology covers up a lot of problems and perhaps these days it’s too easy to get hold of. So you have a situation now where the wrong people get to be a success through television programmes and others who have talent work really hard and aren’t always rewarded with an audience.
I find the art of making music much more enjoyable than listening to music. As a career it’s really satisfying – in just one lesson you can make discernible progress. I can send pupils away knowing and being able to hear that they’ve developed in the short time we’ve had together. To instill that passion in others, that’s what I really love about teaching.
Talk us round your workspace.
I use two rooms. Downstairs is where I teach the singing and I’ve tried to make it look as relaxing as possible, so people feel at home. Upstairs is the studio area where I can record stuff, jam with others and relax.
Upstairs I’ve got a few pieces of furniture we’ve picked up though I haven’t got round to hanging the pictures! And all my guitars are kept up there. Again I want it to be relaxing for people, and we can also use it as a separate space – using the balcony overlooking the park.
You don’t need a huge amount of stuff these days to be able to record a quality track. I’ve got some good mics and this mixing plug in with the sliders and everything else is on the computer. It’s easy to transport that way. The software I use is Ableton Live.
What are your future plans?
I want to build this business up first but I’ve got an idea for a project that I want to explore further into the future. Basically, it would be a collective of self employed people who all do different but complementary things, such as music teacher, sound engineers, graphic designers, PR consultant and so on. They’re all different businesses but they all intersect with the music industry. Someone could walk in and want singing lessons, someone else might have a demo that they want to do something with, someone else might need promotion for an album they’ve finished. No matter what their question is, we should be able to answer: “That’s no problem.” Each member of the collective has their own business and client list but this way they’d intersect and help each other through lean times. The music industry often requires people to work alone but it’s much better to work cooperatively and you can scale up or down according to requirements.
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Sue is one of our team of bloggers. She can be reached on sue AT creativenottingham.com and followed (if that’s your thing) on Twitter @basfordian